FOREIGN POLICY MUSTERS ITS FORCES

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God forbid this should sound anything like Raymond Oglethorpe, the president of America Online, who said last week that the anthrax attacks responsible for the deaths of three people have been "incredibly positive for the Internet." Clearly, Ray needs to get a new speechwriter.

But one result of our reordered world is that we're seeing a broad set of people and institutions in a wholly different light. Not only police and firefighters, and mail carriers and National Guardsmen. But how about security guards? And do you think maybe the folks in the mailroom deserve a holiday gift this year?

In the world of magazines, a leading candidate for this category is Foreign Policy, which has been bringing the world and a world view home to America for 31 years, even as networks and newspapers have starved their foreign-news budgets because consumers didn't care.

And then the planes came, proving again that there are life-and- death matters out there.

That proof, Foreign Policy editor Moises Naim says in the current issue, is just about the only good news from the attack. The same notion — "that the American people now understand that they are, in fact, part of the globe" - is voiced by a retired US Army major general, William Nash, one of four top-level retirees whom the magazine had serendipitously scheduled for a discussion on Sept. 12.

Their comments offer perspectives that are useful and often surprising, coming as they do from four such lions of the establishment. For example, they describe the disparity of spending between the State and Defense departments, and rue that it has made soldiers, rather than diplomats, the most visible US representatives overseas.

And, unshackled by retirement, they're not chary of assessing military waste: General Charles Boyd of the Air Force puts it at 20 to 30 percent. Admiral William Owens was reluctant to use the word "waste" but was willing to say, "The number of $100 billion of gross inefficiency is adequately stated." OK, as long as we don't call it waste.

The surprises extend to their discussion, specifically of how events of the 11th should or might change US priorities; Boyd, for example, agrees spending billions on a missile defense shield is questionable when there are present dangers not delivered by ICBMs.

Of more questionable value elsewhere in the magazine is writer Ray Takeyh's suggestion that democracy is arising as a third option between modernity and Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Takeyh is a fellow at a Washington think tank, and I'm not, but his argument that elected, representative government is the next wave in the Islamic world just wasn't persuasive. Even so, it can be lauded as unconventional thought, which has been in short supply since Sept. 11.

The role of faith

Unconventionality of a sharper fashion is a strength of Wendy Kaminer's essay in Boston magazine, one of four the magazine is presenting in November as part of its coverage of the attack aftermath. She is an agnostic for whom "the murder of some 6,000 people was, after all, a faith-based initiative."

She assails what she sees as the circular reasoning of those who say that this terrorism "was not spawned by religion — at least not by `true' religion," and the notion that what Islamic fundamentalists had wrought had nothing to do with Islam, which "is like insisting that the Inquisition wasn't really Christian."

Kaminer's analysis is powerfully stated, if not original. The legacy of mayhem left by religionists has long been proof for atheists that God does not exist. The rejoinder, of course, is all the good that has been done by believers.

All about Bono

A reasonable case in point would be Bono, lead singer and spiritual leader of U2. From the band's earliest days, its lyrics have used religious imagery and reflected spirituality; so have the band's conduct and causes.

Take, for example, Bono's devotion to the cause of Third World debt relief, which he has worked tirelessly for since he and his wife traveled to Africa four or five years ago. His visibility on the issue is enough to earn him mentions in a Foreign Policy article (even if he's cast on the ill-informed side), and is one of the threads of a cover story in the November Details.

The latter, of course, doesn't delve into anything too substantive, and that's as it should be. But Details does provide details, such as Bono's real name (Paul Hewson), age (41), and family status (father of four). The story's fabulous tidbit, however, is this: Bono's dad's last words before being taken by cancer this summer: "Are you all [bleeping] mad?" Even on his way out, Bob Hewson clearly was a man of today's world.